AS SURELY as the rasher of destiny follows the sausage and egg of fate, so the muesli of Welsh Government leads to the bowel movement of difficulty.
In the excitement of the weeks since the last election, Mark Drakeford’s merry band have been making good on their promise to make radical pledges.
It’s always fun making pledges.
Like the Universal Basic Income. Which will be neither universal nor an income.
What the Welsh Government plans is a benefit payable only to care leavers.
There are many very good arguments for giving additional financial support to those who leave the care system. But the Welsh Government doesn’t have the power to deliver even that limited benefit without Westminster’s approval.
Still, it grabbed a headline or three among the more credulous media channels. That’s before reality set in, and the Welsh Government executed an Olympic standard display of backpedalling ‘clarification’.
If the Welsh Government wants the powers to raise its own taxes and pay its own benefits in its own benefits system, there is only one way to secure them.
The intellectual dishonesty of Labour in Wales’ position is that it flies its political kites knowing that it is doomed not to land them intact.
On the one hand, Labour gets to ping those dastardly Conservatives. On the other, it makes a tokenistic gesture towards independence (or greater autonomy).
It’s performative politics. It’s a lot like that practised by Boris Johnson.
A big sweeping announcement distracts from both governments’ mundane and everyday shortcomings.
If something unfortunate’s about to hit the news (depending on the level of tame, client journalism which passes for news), make a big announcement. Distract from the detail by the equivalent of putting something shiny before the magpie media.
Bad news on waiting lists? Universal Basic Income will sort that out.
Disastrous trade agreement coming to trash Welsh upland farming? Here comes a fifty-mile rail tunnel between Ireland and North Wales.
If you wonder how governments get away with what governments get away with, look to the national media – both print and broadcast – in the UK and Wales.
The complicity between the reporters and the reported in managing what news reaches the public is not new. It’s been part of public life since ancient history. When it came to spin doctors, no ancient empire worth its salt ever commemorated a defeat.
The Battle of Kadesh took place around 1270 BCE.
The combatants, the Egyptians and Hittites, both claimed victory on public monuments afterwards. However, The big winners were carrion eaters.
Wind forward to the First World War, and you have a phantom army of bowmen rallied by St George to repel the German horde.
The tale’s author, Arthur Machen, was criticised for treasonous behaviour when he explained the bowmen story (that he wrote as fiction) was fantasy.
The first casualty of war, the cliché goes, is the truth.
And the same applies to political conflict and the discussion of contentious issues.
The big difference between the past and now is how news is reported twenty-four hours a day, every day throughout the year.
To get people to come back, the news narrative demands fresh meat be constantly pumped in at one end and extruded at the other like so many sausages.
Or like so many sausage-shaped items.
Consumers of news, therefore, get bite-sized chunks of steaming not-really-new news throughout the day.
Last week, the former head of Formula One, Max Mosley, died.
Max Mosley was the son of the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. He lived half in and half out of the public eye until the ‘News of the World’ ran a story that alleged he enjoyed liaisons with prostitutes involving Nazi-themed kinks.
The story about the use of prostitutes was true. The bit about the Nazi theme was not.
Max Mosley sued and won.
The tabloids never forgave him, mainly because he subsequently funded scores of cases brought by the red tops’ illegal phone-hacking victims.
Max Mosley afterwards made a telling point about news’ persistence.
At one time, he observed, the news’ importance lasted about as long as it took for newspapers to become fish and chips wrappings. With the internet and the constant stream of information it brings, people are bombarded with half-truths, lies, and propaganda non-stop.
In that regard, we are ill-served by political journalists who behave as though they are copy-typists for the powerful and influential.
It’s bad enough the PM’s office coordinated the trashing of Kier Starmer last autumn when the UK Government flailed and failed at the unfolding second wave crisis.
It’s even worse ‘reliable’ journalists and representatives from the BBC aided and abetted its scheme
All those sources close to the PM or ‘the Minister’ get away with hardly any scrutiny.
Favoured reporters keep the morsels fed to them coming by reporting what their source wants them to say. Keep the titbits juicy enough, and a house-trained reporter won’t peer too closely into their gift horses’ mouths.
And, readers, if you think the problem is confined to UK media, you are mistaken.
Wales’ media is suffused by outlets that pander to one side or the other. The pay-off is access and continued access for titbits that promote private agendas on matters of public importance.
When Carl Sargeant killed himself in 2017, Carwyn Jones’ first call was to a family member. His second – and far longer call – was to a PR company.
For the few days after Carl Sargeant’s death, the drip of allegations against Mr Sargeant was pernicious and constant.
BBC Wales News swallowed allegations emanating from ‘sources’ (i.e., from Carwyn Jones’ own office and the PR company) and excreted them for public examination.
Later, it emerged that Carwyn Jones knew of allegations about Mr Sargeant for some years and did nothing. It came out that rumours about the allegations were widely known in the Bay Bubble – including journalists.
The news management could not be more obvious.
Only when it suited the person who had the most to gain from ending the cover-up did the allegations come into the public domain.
What’s the truth and what isn’t?
Rather like the Battle of Kadesh, the truth is probably a messy no-score draw.
That being the case, fair scrutiny does not pander to the powerful or influential.
A few weeks ago, Jonathan Edwards MP suggested that MPs wear embroidered logos, like snooker players. When they stood up in Parliament, the public could see who was sponsoring them.
Perhaps reporters should set an example and start doing so.
Just so people know whose truth they’re being sold.
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